Jon Rahm ready to make it a happy homecoming in Spain

Spaniard plays in his first professional event on home soil this week at Andalucia Masters

Jon Rahm of Spain is given a picture of himself receiving an autograph from Henrik Stenson over ten years ago at a press conference ahead of the Andalucia Valderrama Masters at Real Club Valderrama in Cadiz, Spain. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

Jon Rahm of Spain is given a picture of himself receiving an autograph from Henrik Stenson over ten years ago at a press conference ahead of the Andalucia Valderrama Masters at Real Club Valderrama in Cadiz, Spain. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

 

Jon Rahm will play his first professional tournament on home soil at the venue responsible for his career when he contests this week’s Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Rahm was only nearing his third birthday when Valderrama hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup, but his father was inspired to take up the game by the biennial contest and his son soon followed in his footsteps.

The 22-year-old was pictured waiting in line for autographs at the course a few years later, with 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson — now a potential Ryder Cup team-mate — among the players to oblige.

“This venue is very important for Spanish golf,” said the world number five, who only turned professional in June last year but claimed his first PGA Tour title in January and won the Irish Open in July.

“In the past it did a great job putting Spanish golf on the map, they made it an iconic golf course. Then the Ryder Cup came along and made a huge impact in Spain — that’s the reason why I’m playing golf.

“There have been some pictures floating around on social media of me waiting for some autographs right here in Valderrama and it was Henrik Stenson who signed my shirt.

“It’s funny how I’ve come from that 10 years ago to now being able to compete alongside him and accomplish the things I’ve accomplished, so it’s quite a special feeling to be back.”

Rahm is currently third in the Race to Dubai and will be looking to close the gap on absent leader Tommy Fleetwood, as will second-placed compatriot and tournament host Sergio Garcia.

“This is my favourite golf course ever and it’s the kind of golf course that even though it’s not long, it challenges you,” said the Masters champion, who won the last edition of this event in 2011.

“They are small greens so your iron play has to be spot on and if you miss the greens it’s tricky. It’s just a great, solid golf course.

“I’m sure the support will be great this week. Obviously I played in Munich earlier this year and it was the first time I played in Europe since the Masters and I got an amazing reception, so I’m sure this week will be no different.

“The pressure is still the same this week as any week, trying to do well and, yes, maybe trying to perform in front of my home crowds. It’s as simple as that.”

Andalucia Masters lowdown

Course: Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain.

Prize money: €2 million (€333,330 to the winner).

Length: 6,991 yards. Par: 71.

Defending champion: Sergio Garcia (tournament last played in 2011).

Course overview: The iconic Valderrama hosts the Andalucia Masters for the first time since 2011 after the tournament went off the schedule for six years. However, the Sotogrande layout did host the Open de Espana last year and lived right up to its billing as one of the toughest tracks on tour. Accuracy is at an absolute premium with the tree-lined fairways and notoriously small greens giving it an old-style feel and rewarding ball striking a lot more than bombing. With just three par fives the chances to pick up shots are few and far between which can be seen in last year’s score of one over while six under and three under won this tournament the last two times it was played in 2011 and 2010. Last year it had the highest scoring average on tour at 75.6.

A look at the field: Home favourites Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm will be the main draws this week while Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington make up the Irish contingent. Andrew Johnston and Soren Kjledsen are the other two former course winners in action, alongside Garcia.

Tips: This course is a ball-striker’s paradise and there have been few better ball-strikers on tour over the last few weeks than Shane Lowry (14/1). The Offaly man has been finding greens for fun and, despite missing the cut last week, hit nearly 75 per cent of greens in regulation with the putter providing the only problem. On small greens, if Lowry can get his flatstick going he’ll be hard to beat this week. Despite the short odds, Sergio Garcia (9/2) is hard to ignore given his record of 11 tops 10s in 12 starts at Valderrama, however his hosting duties may impact on his golf.

Weather forecast: Light rain and breeze on Thursday but clear from there on in.

Irish in action: Shane Lowry (first round tee time: 8.15am Irish time), Pádraig Harrington (first round tee time: 12.45pm Irish time).

On TV: Sky Sports Golf from 11am.

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